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Expanding access to high quality childcare builds support among Alabama lawmakers, working families

Last week, over 200 advocates gathered in Montgomery to ask the State Legislature to address public policy concerns and opportunities around childcare in Alabama.

Alabama has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire nation — but it also maintains one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the nation. One primary reason a worker would leave the workforce prematurely is to remain at home to care for children.

Manufacture Alabama joined with the Women’s Foundation of Alabama to advocate for state leaders to pass legislation to provide tax credits for businesses and individuals who engage in innovative childcare practices that could offer simpler, more affordable and easier to access solutions to help reenter the workforce.

Melanie Bridgeforth is the President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Alabama.

“This is our opportunity to bring together hundreds of women from all parts of this great state to talk about the issues that matter most to Alabama’s economy through the lens of how they are experienced by women in Alabama,” Bridgeforth said. “Childcare does work and Alabama will work when she works for women.”

RELATED: Alabama, national leaders strategize childcare access at annual Women’s Foundation research event

State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) has carried this legislation in past sessions and he is again championing this issue in the Legislature.

“This year in the Legislature we are committing to removing obstacles that prevent Alabamians from entering the workforce and unleashing their full potential, especially women,” Sen. Gudger told the crowd. “The best way for us to do that is by supporting parents, especially mothers. No one should have to choose between taking care of their child and providing for their family. It is time to invest in an industry that keeps Alabama working and that is childcare.”

This time the legislation appears to have broad bipartisan support as well as support of House leadership.

“In 2022, 85,000 hardworking Alabama families needed access to childcare — but no quality or affordable options in their communities were available,” Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said. “That is something we plan on changing this session.”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) told the rally, “This piece of legislation that we are looking at to address the childcare shortage in the state of Alabama expanding access and opportunities for families all across the state of Alabama. Mothers and families that have had to make the decision whether to enter the workforce and breaking even to pay for childcare or staying home with their child. No mother and no family in this state or in this country should have to make a choice between breaking even to pay for childcare or staying at home.”

RELATED: Reed details legislative approach to building the Alabama workforce of tomorrow in BCA talk

Sen. Gudger’s 2023 legislation would have established the employer tax credit and child care provider tax credit. “It is the intent of the Legislature, by the passage of this legislation, to encourage more Alabamians to enter the workforce and gain employment by improving the quality and availability of childcare options for working parents.”

Gudger’s 2023 bill provided employers with the ability to get a tax credit of up to $2,000 per child for providing a five-star childcare facility to its workers. There was a star rating system for the childcare facilities. Lesser rated facilities would mean a smaller per child tax credit for the employers.

The total tax credit statewide was capped at just $15 million. That bill could not get out of committee; but since then, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) and leadership – led by Speaker Ledbetter – have focused more on why Alabama employers are struggling to find workers while nearly 42 percent of Alabamians 16 years of age and older do not work.

After studying the issue over the summer months, state leaders appear to be poised to embrace the plan they rallied around last week.

Tuesday will be day ten of the 2024 Alabama regular legislative session.

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